Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Books for Tightwads

I've always been an avid reader. For a while I worked at a bookstore, which has left me with a backlog of reading material that should last for years. When I felt the need to embark on a more frugal lifestyle, my thoughts turned immediately to reading about frugality. That led me, of course, to the library. I thought I would devote a post here to some of the books that have helped me make many, many changes toward a more frugal life.

The Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn. These three books are certainly the best combination of cheering squad, frugal philosophy, meticulous research and nitty-gritty, practical advice. Written by a Mainer mother who raised her six children on a single modest income, this is advice from someone who's been there. If you read only one author on frugality, make sure it's the incomparable Amy D. All three of her books are now available bound into a single volume: The Complete Tightwad Gazette. Very highly recommended as an excellent place to start reading about this lifestyle choice. Also the best source I've found of practical and specific money-saving tips.

One of the most crucial frugal skills is home cooking. Many people with little skill in the kitchen view cooking as some sort of quasi-mystical, arcane art and feel daunted before they even begin to learn. Yet cooking is a common, age-old practice, developed over the centuries by illiterate peasants as much as by three-star Michelin chefs. You don't have to be naturally gifted or professionally trained to prepare healthy, nutritious, thrifty and tasty meals - trust me. I'm going to recommend two books for novice home cooks who feel lost and unsure about how to begin mastering their own kitchens. The tried-and-true Joy of Cooking has been around so long for a very good reason: it works for both beginning and experiences cooks. You can rely on the Joy of Cooking to give you a good recipe for just about any basic dish that would be prepared in an American home.

A slightly updated approach to simple yet tasty home meals is provided in the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook is a fantastically practical and very thorough guide to preparing more than a thousand home cooked meals. There's a nice blend of shortcuts and from-scratch preparation in this book, and the photographs are a valuable resource for cooks who are working their way across unfamiliar ground. I highly recommend this book as a source of well tested recipes and a general reference for almost any topic that would be of interest to the home cook. The ATK Family Cookbook is published by the same press that produces Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines.

I've had an old copy of Stocking Up on my bookshelves for almost as long as I've had my own bookshelves. This book is a fantastic guide to preserving and storing food when it is in season, and therefore abundant and cheap. It provides detailed and authoritative instruction on techniques ranging from simple freezing, to canning and even as far as building your own root cellar. Stocking Up can provide you with invaluable information to help you trim your food budget and shift to a healthier diet at the same time.

Baking at home is a complementary skill to home cooking. While there is more money to be saved by cooking lunch and dinner for your family yourself, the savings to be had by baking bread and also breakfast items should not be ignored. But yeasted bread baking can be mystifying to an experienced cook or even professional chef. The best book I can recommend on the topic of yeast breads is The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart. This exhaustively authoritative book contains an incredibly detailed breakdown of the yeasted bread process, as well as some wonderful recipes. There is probably far more information in this book than you need or want. But I've come across no other book which so thoroughly explains what happens when we bake yeasted breads. Also, there are a nice number of recipes for bread made from a sourdough starter - the frugal baker's choice.

More thumbnail book reviews to come!

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